Photo: AP

On Wednesday, the UN Refugee Agency announced that it had spoken to survivors of a maritime disaster reported earlier this week, in which as many as 500 refugees and migrants are rumored to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, somewhere between Libya and Italy.

The 41 survivors (37 men, three women, and a three-year-old child) include 23 Somalis, 11 Ethiopians, 6 Egyptians, and a Sudanese. They were taken on April 16 to a stadium in the Greek coastal city of Kalamata, where a UNHCR team interviewed them:

The survivors told us that they had been part of a group of between 100 and 200 people who departed last week from a locality near Tobruk in Libya on a 30-metre-long boat.

After sailing for several hours, the smugglers on charge of the boat attempted to transfer the passengers to a larger ship carrying hundreds of people in terribly overcrowded conditions. At one point during the transfer, the larger boat capsized and sank.

The 41 survivors include people who had not yet boarded the larger vessel, as well as some who managed to swim back to the smaller boat. They drifted at sea possibly for three days before being spotted and rescued on 16 April.

If confirmed, this would be the worst loss of life at sea in the past year. Per the terms of a new agreement between Turkey and the EU and because the EU has no returns agreement with war-torn Libya, the Guardian reports that the survivors are not likely to be deported.